Robert Reynolds should be happy as a pig in ... well, you know. He’s getting to combine two of his lifelong loves – musical performance and the World War II era – into a package that is gaining increasing approval from audiences around south Louisiana.
The founder of both the Spotlight Theater Players and Rosie & The Swingin’ Riveters, he is using both in that combination, a 1940s era USO Christmas Show that will entertain an audience at the Old South Jamboree Saturday night, which is, coincidentally, Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7.
“Ever since I was a kid, I was drawn to the military,” Reynolds said. “There was a comic book, ‘Sergeant Rock,’ and I loved history in general.”
Reynolds has been expressing that love of music along with his wife Charlotte and daughter Miranda as part of the Living History Corps at the World War II Museum in New Orleans every third Saturday, where they dress in uniform and stand on display, make a set speech to visitors and answer questions about their gear.
As for his love of music, Reynolds recalls that his grandma listened to the big band sounds of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, and his whole family played and sang. His father, John Reynolds, was a professional country performer who died with an aneurysm while playing the piano in 2010. Three years earlier on his parents 50th wedding anniversary, Reynolds recalls that the music started at 6 p.m. and continued until midnight with people passing the instruments around when they got tired.
“I can’t say when I started with music,” Reynolds said. “It was just part of my life. My brother and I had a gospel band in the churches, and I played in my dad’s band in my teens. I grew up at the Old South. I remember when Marty Robbins and Ray Price sang there. I started playing in bars in my twenties.”
But when he became a Christian, Reynolds gave up the bars and almost lost the music along with them. As a youth pastor, he occasionally played in church, but didn’t pick up the drumsticks again until 2004, when Tim Toler advertised for musicians for a big band and formed the, now defunct, Livingston Parish Jazz Ensemble.
“After that I made several attempts to form swing bands,” Reynolds said. “In 2010 I found the right group of guys, and we started out as the back-up band for Andy Ray Perry’s Elvis Tribute.”
With the addition of Michelle Morgan as Rosie, that group became Rosie & the Swingin’ Riveters, which has now grown from four horns to six, giving it a real big band sound.
Current members of the band are all lovers of swing and big band music, many of them also members of the Platinum South Orchestra in Baton Rouge. Pris Ashworth, an Arkansas native, plays a great swing piano. Cary Griffin of Central, the trumpet player, was a member of the Golden Band from Tigerland. Stuart Sonnier of Baton Rouge, who plays baritone saxophone, performs with several local bands.
Jim Wilson, a Cleveland native who plays alto/tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet and percussion, arranged the Riveters version of the classic “Summertime.”
Brian Feigles, a Florida native who plays alto/tenor/soprano saxophone, is the band director at Live Oak High. Trumpet player Alan Honeysucker is from Jackson, Miss. Jordan DeWitt, the 23-year-old bass player, has been performing with Reynolds in various bands since he was 15.
And lead vocalist Michelle “Rosie” Morgan has been singing since childhood and has performed frequently at the Old South.
Rosie & the Swingin’ Riveters will sing both 1940s standards, such as “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and the audience participation song “Minnie the Moocher,” and Christmas music of the same period, such as “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” “Button Up Your Overcoat,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and the Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters version of “Jingle Bells.”
In the first step toward adding more musical performances to the USO Shows, they have recruited Anita Leblanc, who’ll join them for the first time Saturday night performing music of Frances Lane.
In addition to the music, Reynolds’ standard USO Show has been featuring Abbott & Costello radio plays enacted by members of the Spotlight Theater Players, which he founded a few years ago.
The Christmas play they will premiere Saturday night is the third such play they’ve used. It’s not “Who’s on First,” but has a similar play on words with “fir” and “fur” in a string of hilarious misunderstandings.
“The first night we ran through it, we couldn’t stop laughing,” Reynolds said. “Costello goes around town asking everyone to his Christmas party, but everyone turns him down. When no one shows up, he looks back at his childhood when he told everyone not to believe in Santa. Well, Santa told him he wasn’t going to get anything for Christmas and then tells him the naughty things he did during the year and they are just hilarious.”
We won’t be spoilers and reveal how it all turns out, though. You’ll have to come and see the show at the Old South Jamboree on U.S. 190 in Walker at 7 p.m. Saturday night, Dec. 7. Admission is free for veterans and kids 5 and under, $10 for adults and $5 for ages 6 - 12.